Matt Ivester has seen the dark side of the Internet, where people feel free to be offensive, rude or abusive.
Before writing his book, lol … OMG!: What Every Student Needs to Know About Reputation Management, Digital Citizenship and Cyberbullying, Ivester was the founder of JuicyCampus, an online gossip site for college campuses. The site exploded in popularity, and vitriol. Ivester shut it down after two years, but not before Katie Couric called it a “malicious cesspool of barbs, disses and insults.”
That’s why Ivester is now on the lecture circuit to warn people about the importance of protecting their online selves, and how to go about doing that. Bowdoin’s Student Activities office invited Ivester to campus recently to speak to students and local teachers about what they, or their middle or high-school students, can do to make sure they present their best selves on the world wide web.
“Today’s first impressions are made online,” Ivester said. “Whoever you’re meeting for the first time — an employer, blind date, graduate school admission officer — they’ve already looked you up.” College admissions officers are checking out students online, too, Ivester said. “They want students who are going to make good judgments.”
And if any of these people find one negative piece of information about you — a photo of you drunk, a discriminatory comment you made or an example of unwise writing, with bad grammar, perhaps, or swears — it’ll take five positive pieces of information to neutralize that bad impression, Ivester calculated.
Meanwhile, it doesn’t work to just try to erase your online footprint, because if you’re not Google-able, you just look like a “weirdo.”
In his talk, Ivester shared lots of practical information about how to ensure that the first few search hits of your name all come up positive.
First, you should delete bad content, ask others to remove unwanted content, “unfriend” people you don’t know on Facebook, and use privacy settings on your social media sites.
More importantly, Ivester recommends that all students become “conscious creators of content.” This means starting a knowledgeable blog, using YouTube to put up videos of you winning awards, running in a track meet or performing a dance recital. And you should link all your sites — LinkedIn, Google +, YouTube, a blog — so that these positive sites show up higher in online searches.
“Once all the good stuff shows up high in your search results, you can walk into an interview and know you’ve made a good impression,” Ivester said.